You’ve traveled before with family or on a guided tour, and you are ready….you think….to plan your own first adventure. But when you sit down to start booking hotels, flights, VISAs, and more, your heart starts racing, your stomach turns, and you contemplate just staying home for the rest of your life.
Been there. When I first planned my three-week trip to Australia and New Zealand, I wasted many hours and probably lost some years off my life due to the stress of finding the best deals and deciding what to see.
Don’t do what I did! Check out these five sites first and save yourself some anxiety when it comes to planning your dream vacation.
This is a great place to start exploring flights. Kayak compares all the different flight options without having to look at multiple websites. Just type in where you’re flying from, where you want to fly to, and what date you want to go. Once your results come up, you can organize them by price (my preference), recommended flights, or flight duration. The handy search on the left also lets you choose how many stops you want to make, what time of day you want to leave, what time you want to arrive, which airport, which airline, and more. Seriously, don’t bother searching individual airline sites. Kayak’s got you!
2. Google Search
There are two things I always search on Google before I start booking hotels, tours, etc. First, search for tours through the country you are thinking of visiting. Click on one or two tour companies to see what they have included in their itineraries and write down what destinations sound interesting to you. Second, Google “must see in (insert country/city name).” Google will give you these handy little boxes at the top with points of interest. You can either click on ones that look cool to read more or make a list of ones you want to check out later.
Now that you have some idea as to what sites and cities you want to see on your trip, use TripAdvisor to find out if they are worth seeing. Go to the site and click on “things to do” at the top of the page. You can type in a city if you want to see what people recommend or type in a specific point of interest to see pictures, read reviews, get pricing, etc. Always read the negative reviews to see if the things that people complain about will bother you or not. I also like to see how the company responds to the complaints. TripAdvisor is also a must-visit for hotels and restaurants.
Airbnb is one of the best things to happen to travel since the airplane! You get to stay in a local’s home or room for usually cheaper than a hotel and really immerse yourself in the local neighborhoods. If you’re lucky, your host with leave you goodies, show you around town, or at least give you recommendations on where to eat and what to see. If you haven’t used it before, go to the site, make a profile, and search by dates and location. You can filter by amenities, location, or type of room. And Airbnb has some cool extra features for certain cities. By clicking on the featured cities, places, or experiences tabs on the page, you can look up different neighborhoods; find tours hosted by locals; and explore restaurants, coffee shops, bars, clubs, parks, shops, art galleries, workout spots, and so, so much more.
Just like Kayak compares flights for you, so too does Hotels.com. Hotels.com compares all the available hotels in an area so it’s easy to find the best fit for you. While I love Airbnb, sometimes it’s more convenient to stay in a hotel. Some cities just don’t have as many Airbnb options or sometimes your flight gets in really late and it’s just easier to check into a local hotel than coordinate with an Airbnb host. Whatever the reason, Hotels.com allows you to search by date and location, then narrow down your search with the bar on the left. You can go by star rating, amenities, accessibility features, and more. Just like Kayak, Hotels.com is usually up-to-date on comparing prices so you don’t need to spend your precious time searching dozens of sites for the best deal.
That’s it! I hope these sites help you like they help me. So many people think I just have a knack for planning great vacations, but honestly, these sites are my secret weapons. Let me know how they work for you or if I’m missing any other anxiety-reducing resources in the comments below!